AIMCo Appoints Marlene Puffer to the Role of CIO

The Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) just announced that Marlene Puffer has been appointed to the role of Chief Investment Officer:

Edmonton, Alberta – Alberta Investment Management Corporation (AIMCo) is pleased to announce the appointment of Dr. Marlene Puffer as Chief Investment Officer. She will assume her new role on January 30, 2023. Dr. Puffer is an accomplished investor and leader with over 25 years of experience in both cross-asset class portfolio management and liability driven investment.

Dr. Puffer brings with her an excellent investment track record and a wealth of experience in traditional and alternative investments, capital markets, and pension governance. She has held CEO, senior roles and board positions at major Canadian pension funds and investment dealers. Most recently, she was the President and Chief Executive Officer at CN Investment Division, accountable for all aspects of the investment management and organizational oversight of the CN Pension Trust Funds. She is former vice-chair of the Board of the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP) and past president of Women in Capital Markets. Dr. Puffer is a CFA charterholder and received her Ph.D. in Finance and Statistics from the Simon Business School, University of Rochester.

“I am delighted to have Marlene join AIMCo. She is both a fantastic addition to the company and a complement to our leadership team,” said Evan Siddall, CEO of AIMCo. “I look forward to Marlene’s guidance and investment acumen, to ensure we are at the forefront of global asset management, as we aim to fulfill our purpose for our clients and build a better financial future for all Albertans.”

As Chief Investment Officer, Dr. Puffer will serve as Head of both Public and Private Investments — responsible for Real Estate, Infrastructure, Private Equity and Private Debt and Loan, Fixed Income, Private Mortgages, Economics and Fund Strategy and Public Equities — addressing clients' needs for both liquid and illiquid investments.

With Dr. Puffer’s appointment, Sandra Lau, who most recently served as Interim CIO, has decided to leave AIMCo.

“I want to acknowledge and thank Sandra Lau for her deep commitment to AIMCo and track-record of delivering client value over the past 24 years. Her passion for AIMCo is undeniable and her contributions to the organization, especially her commitment to our DEI principles, will continue to position AIMCo for success in the future,” said Siddall. “While we are very sad to see her go, we wish Sandra the very best for the future. She would be an asset to any investment organization.”

Sandra began her career at AIMCo in 1999, and her tenacity and investment expertise gave her opportunity to hold progressively more senior positions. Prior to her role as Co-CIO and Head of Public Investments, a role she held before her current interim role, Sandra successfully led Global Fixed Income investments with record top quartile performance for over a decade.

About Alberta Investment Management Corporation

AIMCo is one of Canada’s largest and most diversified institutional investment managers with more than $150 billion of assets under management. AIMCo was established on January 1, 2008, with a mandate to provide superior long-term investment results for its clients. AIMCo operates at arms-length from the Government of Alberta and invests globally on behalf of 32 pension, endowment, and government funds in the Province of Alberta.

A little after 3 p.m. this afternoon, as I was watching the Argentina-Croatia soccer match, I received an email from AIMCo announcing Marlene Puffer's appointment as their new CIO.

Of course, I am very happy for Marlene, I think very highly of her and think this is an excellent appointment.

Marlene is an industry veteran with lots of great experience. There is no doubt in my mind she will be an outstanding CIO at AIMCo during this critical time.

The AIMCo press release only covers the tip of the iceberg in terms of her experience.

Before heading up CN Investment division, Marlene was a partner at Alignvest Management and worked alongside Timothy Hodgson who was recently appointed to Ontario Teachers' board of directors after completing two full board terms at PSP Investments.  

When she was a partner at Alignvest, The Canadian Institute posted a more extensive biography of her on its website:

MARLENE PUFFER, Ph.D., CFA, is a Partner of Alignvest Investment Management.Marlene has more than 20 years of experience in senior roles and board positions at world-class financial institutions in investments, pensions,capital markets and academia. Marlene also serves as Board Trustee and Chair of the Asset-Liability Management Committee at the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOOPP).

She has worked closely with institutional investors, unions,boards, senior management, governments, and academics in a variety of capacities. Prior to joining Alignvest, Marlene was Chief Strategist, Global Fixed Income at BCA Research (a global leader in independent macro investment strategy) and was the President and Founder of Twist Financial an independent firm providing strategic advice, education, and investment strategy and implementation for institutional investors, boards, government agencies, and other market participants.

Marlene’s previous experience also includes roles as Chief Investment Officer at NAV Canada Pension Plan, business development and portfolio management at PIMCO Canada and Legg Mason Canada, fixed income analytics and debt capital markets roles on the trading floors at BMO and RBC.

She began her career as a professor of finance at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. Marlene holds a Ph.D in Finance and Applied Statistics and a M.Sc. in Business Administration from the Simon Business School at the University of Rochester, and master's and bachelor's degrees in Economics from the University of Toronto. She holds a CFA charter and the ICD.D designation granted by the Institute of Corporate Directors.

She also went on to be a leader at Women in Capital Markets, mentoring many aspiring young female leaders.

Now, from this experience, we share a common former employer, BCA Research.

After I got my Master's in Economics at McGill after being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (see my last post), I went to work in Ottawa working for the Special Investigations Division at Revenue Canada, now called the Canada Revenue Agency.

Professor Tom Naylor helped me land that job and I was working for Jeanne Flemming who later became the director of FINTRAC

I remember that contract work because they asked me to estimate the size and scope of the underground economy in Canada which is absurd.

I had gone to see Tom Naylor and told him about it and he gave me wise advice: "It's nonsense, you can't measure what you can't see but just go with it, it's your first job and use some round number like 10% to make it sound impressive."

I also remember this guy that worked there, Ron Moore, he had 30 years experience and he really knew his stuff inside out. He handled all the biggest fraud files in Canada. He also thought the project they had me doing was total nonsense but he was nice and supportive.

Anyway, Ottawa back then wasn't like now, it was bitter cold in the winter and there was really not much to do at night. I used to walk to the office in Vanier across a bridge and then back to my apartment in the afternoon which had an indoor pool, swim, eat and then I'd walk to the Chapter's bookstore in downtown and spent my time reading books in the evening (loved that bookstore).

Before leaving to work in Ottawa, I had applied to an analyst job at BCA Research.

One day, Martin Barnes, Managing Editor of The Bank Credit Analyst, BCA Research's flagship publication which Tony Boeckh (BCA's founder) started, called me and asked me if I was still interested in joining and working there.

So I joined BCA Research and worked on the US Fixed Income Monthly publication with my boss back then, Mark McClellan (now at Alpine Macro along with Tony, Chen and David).

I liked Mark a lot, worked well with him, he is a nice guy. Martin Barnes not so much, he was very sharp but he wasn't everyone's cup of tea, certainly not mine.

But I loved working at BCA back then and especially loved those Friday afternoon debates between managing editors when Martin Barnes, Warren Smith, Francis Scotland, Gerard MacDonell, Chen Zhao, David Abramson and Steve Poloz (great guy, went on to head the EDC and then Bank of Canada) really got into it, debating each other on their market views.

BCA was an amazing place to learn macroeconomics and financial markets. It was also a great place to learn how to write well. It wasn't a career place, huge turnover back then, but people knew it was a sweatshop and they let themselves be abused because of the experience and reputation it had.

Lots of former BCAers like Francois Trahan (Trahan Macro Research), Mehran Nakhjavani (now at MRB Partners along with Warren Smith and Phillip Colmar), Jonathan Nitzan (now at York University and very happy), George Archer (retired and very happy), and Brian Romanchuk (left CDPQ and is very happy) can share war stories with you and corroborate everything I'm writing here (whatever happened to Matt Pugsley, he was an awesome money manager and nice guy too).

Marlene Puffer came to BCA after my time but I'm sure she can share her own war stories from there. 

The only reason I'm drudging out this walk down memory lane is to state if Marlene was able to handle the testosterone, attitudes and old management style of BCA Research back then, she is able to handle any environment.

Of course, she moved on and gained valuable experience as CIO at NAV Canada Pension Plan, as a board member at HOOPP and eventually as CEO of CN Investment Division, taking over from Russell Hiscock who succeeded Tulio Cedraschi (the man who led CN Investment Division for years).

Anyway, now it's time for Marlene to officially join one of Canada's Maple Eight. 

Over a year ago, when the headhunter called me about who should replace Neil Cunningham, PSP's former CEO, I gave Marlene's name along with some other women like Tanya Carmichael, former Managing Director of Global Funds at OTPP. Barb Zvan had already started as CEO of UPP so I mentioned her but said she's probably not interested.

I remember the headhunter asked me: "What do you think of Deborah Orida?"

I replied: "She's awesome, I spoke to her, but good luck poaching her from CPP Investments, she's next in line to succeed John Graham."

Well, the rest is history.

As I recently posted when I covered Barb Zvan winning CEO of the year, Barb is part of an elite and small group of women who are running a major pension plan or fund:

It's so small, I can name them off the top of my head:

  • Deborah (Deb) Orida, President and CEO of PSP Investments
  • Barbara (Barb) Zvan, President and CEO of UPP
  • Nathalie Palladitcheff, President and CEO of Ivanhoé Cambridge (CDPQ's real estate arm)
  • Marcie Frost, President and CEO of CalPERS
  • Cassandra Lichnock, CEO of CalSTRS (first female CEO, she started work on July 1, 2021).
  • Marlene Puffer, President and CEO of CN Investment Division

And you can add Nicole Musicco, another OTPP alumnus, who is now the CIO of CalPERS and Rossitsa Stoyanova who is CIO of IMCO.

Now, I should have added Sandra Lau to the list of CIOs as well as Annesley Wallace, Executive Vice President and Global Head of OMERS Infrastructure, Rana Ghorayeb, President and CEO of Otera Capital, Kim Thomassin, Executive Vice-President and Head of Québec at CDPQ and Suyi Kim, Senior Managing Director and Global Head of Private Equity at CPP Investments.

I also should have mentioned Michelle Ostermann, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Capital Markets Investments at PSP Investments, Lori Hall-Kimm, Senior Managing Director & Head of Global Private Equity at HOOPP, Gillian Brown, Head of Capital Markets at OTPP, Priti Singh, Senior Managing Director and Global Head of Capital Markets and Factor Investing at CPP Investments, Sandra Bosela, Co-Group Head, Managing Director and Global Head of Private Equity at OPTrust Private Markets Group and Olivia Steedman, Executive Managing Director and Global Head of Teachers' Venture Growth (TVG).

These are all very accomplished women who are leading the way for future generations of women to lead pension organizations.

But more gender diversity at the level of CIO or CEO isn't going to happen overnight, it's going to take years before women reach the same level or overtake men at the top spots. 

[Note: Kristin Varela, the former interim CIO and deputy CIO for the New Mexico Public Employees’ Retirement System, has been chosen to replace Elizabeth Burton as CIO of the $21 billion Employees’ Retirement System of the State of Hawaii. Burton departed in June for Goldman Sachs Asset Management. Howard Hodel, who had been serving as acting CIO, will retire in 2023.]

As far as Sandra Lau, AIMCo's former co-CIO, I have nothing but good things to state about her.

Sandra is really smart, knows economics and fixed income markets very well. 

She is also very nice and was loved at AIMCo, so I'm not sure what happened and why she left but I suspect they opened up a competition for the post and she wasn't chosen because she lacked private markets experience.

The weird thing is AIMCo appointed two co-CIOs - James Barber and Sandra Lau -- earlier this year to replace outgoing CIO, Dale MacMaster who retired.

I spoke to Sandra and James back in February and you can read my comment here

It was obvious to me that co-CIOs wasn't going to work out but Sandra who has more public markets experience complemented James who has more private markets experience.

Or so I thought.

James Barber left the organization roughly three months ago and now Sandra Lau is leaving.

Something obviously didn’t work out there.

Now, I think Evan Siddall and AIMCo's Board (including Chair Mark Wiseman and Jim Keohane, former CEO of HOOPP) learned from this mishap and I certainly hope it will never be repeated again.

Those are my brutally honest thoughts.

Let me once again publicly congratulate Marlene Puffer, AIMCo’s new CIO who I think one day might lead that organization (if she doesn't get poached, she will be great CEO but let her first enjoy being the CIO).

As far as Sandra Lau, I think she has many good years left to work elsewhere at a large public pension in Canada or elsewhere and if she retires, she should be appointed to a board of directors.

I wish her all the best and have nothing but good things to say about her too.

Below, an older interview with Marlene Puffer, the former President and CEO of the CN Investment Division, which manages the assets of one of the largest corporate pension funds in Canada. 

Marlene was interviewed by Michelle Ostermann, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Capital Markets Investments at PSP Investments, as part of a ICPM series on female global powerhouses in pensions.